The two-words question to ask, when you feel stuck

It was a cold and slight-raining morning. Only the park’s lights were making the quarter mile track visible.Myriam was all by herself. No one else. Working on, both, her position in starting-blocks and how quick she could get out of them. By the look of it, she had not just started her day.

With a breath-catching voice, “Overall… that one went well. (…) Maybe… just be more careful about my 1st step. Not (…)Not turning my right ankle too much inward. Because I felt it, when I made my next step.”

The walk back to the starting line gave her some rest time. Once she passed the starting line, though, Myriam did the same thing as 4 minutes ago.

First, she found the spot for her toes, at the bottom of the blocks. Then, she bent her legs, while lifting the knees. Which put her hips higher than any other part of her body. While pressing her fingers right behind the starting line, she brought her shoulder blades down, to relax her neck.

Closing her eyes for a few seconds, a smile came up her lips.

As she opened her eyes, her smile was now replaced by this expression of readiness.

In her head, the same 5 seconds she heard countless at different tracks, played back. “On your mark. (…) Get set. (…) Pow!

Off she went, for another 100 meters, in the middle of this college campus.

Walking her way back to the starting line, Myriam’s thoughts all went in the same direction. “How do I get it right? What can I do to get better?

Spontaneously, she reviewed all the things she had done that day. Starting from the time she got out of bed.

Halfway to the starting line, her answer was “I don’t know”. Then, with the voice of someone who refuses to settle,she said “I’ve got to figure this out! I’ve got to…

WHO GETS STUCK WITHOUT A REASON?

No one gets stuck without a reason. It’s usually the result of something you have done… or decided “not to”… while you were trying to reach something. Let  it be a goal or a physical destination, for instance.

It also happens when the process you were relying upon – to reach your goal – doesn’t apply anymore.

Like attracting new customers to your store – through ads in local papers – when the dire-local papers in your area are closed down. Or manufacturing your products within a certain period of time – once an order is received – when you can’t get the goods you need due to a change in the regulations on imports.

The same when a tool reaches its limits.

For instance, when you use a printed streets map in a city where there is a lot of construction work. Not getting late to your appointment becomes a real challenge then.

In all cases, the common thread is this: circumstances have changed, we need to adapt.

Reaching this level of clarity isn’t obvious and easy. Even more so, when we don’t have all the information – about what got us stuck and why. “I don’t understand. This used to work. How come it doesn’t anymore?” Questioning and blaming ourselves tends to come easy, in this sort of situation.

THE VALUE OF TAKING A STEP BACK

Once we start being harsh with ourselves, it’s hard to keep our mind sharp. So we can see what really doesn’t work – in what we did – and find a more appropriate solution.

This is where taking a step back comes into play and shows its value. Think of it like making a recap of a meeting or movie to someone who missed it. “It all started when ____. Then “X” happened. Because of that, the main character had to choose between “A” or “B”. Then “Y” happened.”

At some point, an element grabs our attention more than anything else.“I think this is what didn’t work.” Digging a little deeper allows us to either confirm it is the case, or that something else actually is the cause of our troubles. Of why we’re stuck.

Still, even if we can’t pinpoint the exact reason why we’re stuck, we’ve got to find a way out. For, who enjoys being stuck and stay like that? Do you?

In terms of strategies, there are plenty of options.

To push through and keep “doing things as usual” doesn’t do any good. At worst, by acting in hardheaded way and refusing to make any change,you end up losing more of everything (time, energy, self-esteem) and not going one inch further.

On the other hand, trying to find an alternative (solution) path or detour, offers way more potential.

The problem is finding such detour. One that gets us unstuck.

THE TWO-WORD QUESTION THAT TRAINED PROBLEM SOLVERS CONSTANTLY USE

Despite the advent of tools like Wikipedia and Google’s search engine, we don’t always have an answer to every problem. Moreover, to “What’s the best way for me to solve _____ (fill in with the problem you struggle the most with these days)?

Which is why “What if ___?” is so useful.

What if I use an Excel spreadsheet instead of a Word file to build this daily report for my boss?” “What if I found a computer programming course online instead of trying to get admitted to college?” “What if I try to get a job in a photo studio or shop? Which is actually related to what I want to be; a photograph. Instead of working a nowhere job like the one I have right now?

Experienced problem solvers, from different walks of life, constantly use this question. Entrepreneurs, military men and women, scientists, artists and professional athletes. Why? For the reason that, just like you, they find themselves facing a situation that leaves them feeling stuck or in a dead end.

What if …?” doesn’t provide them with any ready-to-use answers or hacks. It sure does provide a series options they can test, learn from and eventually succeed with.

Which is what we all seek, in the end, when we’re stuck: to get unstuck so we can start moving forward again and reach our goal or destination.

The problem with getting stuck is avoiding repeating (over and over again) what got us stuck in the first place. “If it worked before, it should work again”.

Getting unstuck, then, isn’t about being hardheaded or harsh with yourself. At least, according to the most skilled problem solvers.

One thing it requires, though, is for you to change the questions you ask. To use “What if …?” instead of “How do I get unstuck?

Whether you’re at the track, trying to improve your race time. Or at the office, having to come up a solution to a supply chain problem. Every time, feeling stuck inside a box you can’t find a way out.

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Photo by: Mario Azzi

Design by: Di Mellon

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